WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a long weekend spent wondering if he should resign or would be fired, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein still has his job — for now.
President Donald Trump gave Rosenstein a three-day reprieve pending their face-to-face White House showdown on Thursday. That’s when the man who oversees the Trump-Russia investigation will respond to reports that he had discussed secretly recording the president and possibly using constitutional procedures to remove him from office.
The revelation that Rosenstein last year had broached the idea of taping the president touched off a dramatic weekend of conversations with the White House in which he offered to one official to resign and confided to another that he was considering doing so, according to two people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Even as he took issue with the reports, Rosenstein arrived at the White House on Monday expecting to be fired, according to another person who spoke on condition of anonymity. Instead, after he met with chief of staff John Kelly and spoke by phone to Trump himself, questions about his future were effectively tabled until the personal meeting on Thursday.
The position of deputy attorney general is ordinarily a relatively low-visibility one in Washington, but Rosenstein has assumed outsized significance given his appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The commotion about Rosenstein’s future adds to the turmoil roiling the administration, just six weeks before midterm elections with control of Congress at stake. In addition to dealing with the Mueller investigation, the White House is also struggling to win confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.
The Trump-Rosenstein meeting will be on the same day as an extraordinary Senate committee hearing featuring Kavanaugh and a woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.
Questions about Rosenstein’s future, long simmering, took on new life Friday with a New York Times report that in May 2017 discussions with FBI and Justice Department officials he suggested the idea of secretly recording Trump — remarks his defenders insist were merely sarcastic — and of invoking the Constitution to have the Cabinet consider removing him from office.
Rosenstein was summoned to the White House on Friday evening for a conversation with chief of staff Kelly after which he issued a denial meant to be even sharper in tone than the one the Justice Department sent out hours earlier.
In conversations over the weekend, he offered to Kelly to resign, though the terms were unclear. He also told White House Counsel Don McGahn that he was considering doing so. McGahn told Rosenstein they should discuss the issue Monday, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.
He met again with Kelly on Monday and spoke by phone with Trump, also attending a pre-scheduled meeting at the White House in place of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was traveling. Rosenstein was captured by photographers leaving the White House after his meetings Monday and was led out by Kelly, later returning to the White House.
“At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington, D.C.”
It’s unclear what will happen Thursday.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 after Sessions, who ordinarily would have overseen the Russia investigation, recused himself because of his close involvement in the Trump campaign.